Some creative types have known what they want to do all their lives. From the minute they start to crawl and gurgle something resembling a human language, they have made a beeline for that one thing that floats their boat – whether it be a paintbrush or a pencil, a drum set or a guitar, or a camera.
I hate them.
Okay that’s a bit strong. Perhaps more accurate to say, I’m insanely jealous of them (the lucky swine).
Because I’ve never known what I wanted.
Writing is the thing that comes most naturally to me, but perhaps because of the culture I was brought up in it never seemed like something to pursue as a career, like a doctor or lawyer.
So as well as writing, I drew cartoons, I played guitar, I messed around with a camcorder and made daft DIY music videos. I tried scriptwriting, I tried music reviewing, I even tried this really daft new trend they’re calling blogging, which has enabled me to write, take photos, make videos and record podcasts.
I even get paid for my work as a copywriter now, though not full time as yet. I really enjoy it, I find it rewarding and interesting and it’s definitely suited to my skills. It’s taken me until my early thirties to finally get paid doing something creative that I really enjoy – and it’s still not my full time job.
But guess what? I still want to play guitar, I still want to draw and paint and make daft DIY music videos etc etc. I can’t quite give up on all my creative dreams. I wanted to write a novel, I wanted to record an album of my maudlin acoustic guitar ballads and I wanted to make a short film or even a feature. Still do in fact.
Even now, with all my efforts to be more clear-minded, I just can’t settle on one thing.
Which is where this month’s Clear-Minded Classic comes in. It’s a book called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, by Margaret Lobenstine.
Now if you were always pretty sure what you wanted to do then 1. you’re probably not reading any more, and 2. you probably won’t relate to anything that follows.
If you’re what life and career coach Lobenstine calls a “Renaissance Soul” then you will probably relate very much indeed to the following, learnt from years of working with her clients:
A significant number of these clients tended to have trouble choosing—whether that choice was a career path or activities outside the realm of paid work. Their problems felt bigger than “What should I do to earn a living?” They felt almost philosophical, even existential. “Where is all this going?” they’d ask me in frustration. “Why can’t I make up my mind? If I could, my life would be so much easier!”
The term Renaissance Soul might seem a little fluffy, but she based it on the well known era which was rich with varied artistic expression from the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci. That’s setting the bar a little high, but there’s no pressure to be a genius here – just to look at your perhaps ever-so-slightly-fickle or some might prefer complex personality in a more positive way rather than see it as a negative thing.
Not only that but despite the fact that most career/business advice focuses on sticking to one thing or finding a narrow niche market, Lobenstine firmly believes you can still be successful if you are a Renaissance Soul. There are significant challenges to overcome however.
Wherever they end up, Renaissance Souls usually find that they have to tackle three challenges in order to get where they want to be: focus, money, and time. The challenge of focus is to avoid being paralyzed by the seeming need to choose among many paths. The challenge of money is to link your passions to a source of income. And the challenge of time is twofold: how to avoid “starting all over again” each time you switch interests, and how to organize your time in a way that works with your Renaissance Soul rhythms.
Lobenstine advises the reader to come up with four (or so) key interests that they feel strongly about and wish to focus on for now. As I’ve found with so many of the readings I’ve done for this blog, and my own experiences, values are key to deciding which areas to prioritise.
Human beings—not just Renaissance Souls, but everyone—experience the most productivity, creativity, and joy when they tap into the wellspring of their most deeply held values. And honest priorities are especially important for those of us who often feel overwhelmed or guilty.
Focusing on four areas in her experience is the perfect balance, allowing for variety but also focus. At first, you shouldn’t be concerned with how much money these focal points may or may not make – you are choosing them because they are genuine passions. When it comes to how long the focal points last, she is vague – it depends on the individual. Some may change them with the seasons, others may keep the same focal points for several years.
Lobenstine then moves on to career design using your current focal points as the building blocks. She advises against trying to fit your interests around the edges of a day job you don’t enjoy – mainly because such day jobs are usually very draining energy-wise and demoralising. Instead she suggests finding a job that will take you closer to one of your focal points in some way.
I’ve certainly found that to be a case with the copywriting work I’ve been doing because I am improving my craft every day that I do it and learning about marketing and business. There are some aspects of this in my main job as well as I have been able to use Photoshop, InDesign and do some video editing as part of that, but it is few and far between.
What the author recommends though is you never define yourself by what she calls your “J.O.B.” – so if someone asks you what you do at a party, you tell her about all the creative stuff you really care about, like the fact you sculpt elephants out of corn on the cob, not just the fact you shine shoes for a living (or whatever).
So far, it all sounds nice and simple right? But in order to determine which ‘focal points’ you should be focusing on, Lobenstine is not going to let you off that easy. She wants you to determine which is the most important using the PRISM test – Price, Reality, Integrity, Specificity, and Measurability. Whilst the inclusion of SMART goals in my yearly review at work means that acronyms tend to bring me out in hives, she does explain the meaning behind PRISM in a way that makes you understand why it’s useful. Of course there is quite a bit of work involved in doing this so you have to be prepared to put the time and effort in.
Lobenstine does acknowledge though, that time management and structure is not the strong point of the Renaissance Soul. She has suggestions for this too:
It’s very important for you not to micromanage your time, or to schedule yourself so tightly that you can’t respond to opportunities. You need to design your life not by the minute or hour, but by the week or month—and by what really matters to you. You need a set of strategies that will let you respond to your energies and opportunities, while preventing you from chasing a zillion rainbows at once.
So you’ll know by now whether the book will be useful to you. Or it might just be enough for you to know that you’re not alone! I know from experience that I can focus on certain creative interests for a while at the exclusion of others, but eventually I’ll want to go back to the ones I’ve ignored, e.g. pick up the guitar or make another video. I just wish I could stick at one of them long enough to get really good at it!
Let me know in the comments if you consider yourself a ‘Renaissance Soul’ or one of the lucky ones who has always known what they wanted.
Note 1 : As well as this book there is another on the same theme called Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love by Barbara Sher
. I haven’t read this book but believe Barbara Sher’s own term for ‘Renaissance Souls’ is “scanners”. Now having seen the David Cronenberg film of the same name several times I’m not as keen on that term (it tended to lead to an unfortunate explosion in the brain area) but I’ve also heard good things about this book.
Note 2: A while after reading Renaissance Soul I found Emilie Wapnick’s website. Emilie also writes about and coaches people with too many passions – she calls them multipotentialites and has recently released her own book which helps people with lots of creative interests come up with business ideas Click here to view more details (affiliate link).
Note 3: Some of my fellow creatively-minded bloggers, Good Ship Lifestyle and Rewire Business are running a survey for multi-passionate people or ‘renaissance souls’. There’s still time to take part: http://goodshiplifestyle.com/passioneer-survey/
Note 4: You might notice that not only can Renaissance Souls not choose a specific thing to focus on, they can’t even agree amongst themselves what to call themselves!